In brief: The Crichel Boys; Redder Days; Miss Benson’s Beetle – reviews | Books


Constable, £25, pp354

Long Crichel House has never ranked with Charleston in terms of the panoply of literary and artistic salons, but in this absorbing new history, Simon Fenwick makes a convincing case for its importance and relevance. Host to “hyphenated gentleman-aesthetes”, Long Crichel attracted a colourful range of characters including Vita Sackville-West and Patrick Leigh Fermor. Fenwick skilfully brings them to life with a well-judged mixture of gossipy anecdotes and, when called for, a sober look at the legacy of “the buggery house at Crichel”, as Evelyn Waugh sardonically called it.

Doubleday, £14.99, pp260

Sue Rainsford’s second novel has chilling topical resonance in its depiction of a dystopian future in which the world, wracked by climate change, heads towards its end. Yet its protagonists, twins Anna and Adam, are menaced by a threat closer to home as they squeeze out existence in an abandoned commune. There are echoes here of Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death, and Rainsford’s spare, haunting style and willingness to tread into dark and thought-provoking areas make this an accomplished and disturbing read.

Rachel Joyce.
Rachel Joyce. Photograph: Pål Hansen

Penguin, £16.99, pp400

Rachel Joyce is a great chronicler of journeys and quests, and the one that her protagonist Margery Benson undergoes here, travelling to New Caledonia in order to discover a hitherto unknown species of golden beetle, is as delicately and exquisitely portrayed as in her other books. Joyce takes Benson and her pink-suited friend Enid Pretty on an adventure that both amuses and stirs, and the 50s setting allows her to leaven the humour with a vein of melancholy about how the after-effects of war did not produce the emancipation many women hoped for.

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